[ba-unrev-talk] Fwd: Re: digital physics contd
The discussion continues...
I, for one, think this thread to be of interest to those of us who fuss
with the capture and representation of "knowledge." (01)
>Sender: VCU Complexity Research Group <COMPLEXITY-L@VENUS.VCU.EDU>
>From: John McCrone <email@example.com>
>Subject: Re: digital physics contd
> > HP: What is important to me is knowing the limits of our knowledge. This
> > is a "big deal" problem of epistemology. I do not see how we can know
> > reality except by our brain's (or sensorimoter system's) constructions or
> > models of reality.
>JM: I've acknowledged before that yours is clearly a productive orientation
>to the issues and I may be pursuing an unproductive path in seeking "more
>But it is also true that I have come at epistemology from the other
>direction - from mind science rather than physical science - and that leads
>me to question some of your apparent assumptions here. For a start, I think
>you may not make enough allowance for the socially-scaffolded nature of
>human "sensorimotor" models of reality.
>The human brain is - loosely speaking - a generative neural network (as best
>modelled by Stephen Grossberg, among many others including Hebb and Mackay).
>It develops its anticipations through interaction with the physical world.
>But its development is also guided (controlled?) by two sources of systems
>information - genes and words. Both contribute to the shaping of its
>This is not to say, in Whorfian fashion, that language structures human
>perception. But there are subtle influences even at the level of "raw"
>perception which epistemology must acknowledge, or at least be able to
>explicitly rule out for the sake of completeness.
>Is this cautionary note relevant to the present discussion? I think it is as
>human grammar and attentional style (the lateralised brain) both bias us in
>favour of seeing reality in terms of discrete, agential, cause and effect
>chains of events. It is "natural" for us to antropomorphise and see the
>world in terms of control (will) rather than contextual constraint
>In short, the standard human mental style has been shaped by the standard
>human social lifestyle over the past 40,000 years or so. The way we think
>about reality fits the needs of social existence and is not a pure
>reflection of sensorimotor experience (see articles on feral children, etc,
>on my website).
>Another epistemological level conclusion that I draw from the bifold (genes
>and words) nature of the human mind is that you cannot ignore the cultural
>level of consciousness. Your epistemology locates cognition in individual
>human heads. My epistemology suggests that there may be a higher level of
>understanding - that which could be said to exist in the "head" of a
>Now I don't claim that society has really achieved that much cognitive
>organisation as yet - science is still carried out in too individualistic a
>fashion for that (Western science follows the romantic model, just as
>Western society does generally). But if we are talking about
>epistemological limits, that is one direction in which the boundaries may
>well be pushed back. And a direction that does not seem to be modelled in
>your otherwise very crisp description of the whole business of epistemology.
> >HP: Now the problem is that there is no empirical test for continuity
> > all measurements are discrete and subject to error. Therefore, no matter
> > how small dx, or how smoothly we conceive of motion, we can never
> > demonstrate that there does not exist a smaller unobservable discrete
> > plenum or matrix. Furthermore, mathematics shows us that what even what we
> > mean by continuity can only be made precise by a finite set of discrete
> > symbols.
>JM: By the same token, there would be no empirical tests of discreteness. No
>matter how fine the measurement, the continuum may actually conceal
>discreteness. So ultimately, we cannot get our answers from empirical
>measurement. Nor could we get certain knowledge from the models themselves -
>didn't Godel prove that <grin>?
>These limits - empirical and theoretical - are acknowledged freely. The
>question then is how does science negotiate a course? The answer is that it
>pushes as far as it can go through the interaction of measurement and
>theory. The outcome is what perspective best seems to describe the resulting
>journey - a discrete or continuous ontology.
>Most physicists, eg: Wolfram, seem to be saying that reality mostly ends up
>looking digital at the end of the day. You suggest that you see it as a
>split decision - continuity and discreteness seem to win out (or lose out)
>about equally. Or equally enough for us to seem far from any useful
>conclusions about the trend in the data. I am arguing that I see reality
>looking mostly continuous - and that most systems thinkers, like Rosen, are
>distinct from the herd in coming to the same conclusion.
>Perhaps I am wildly overstating matters. But it seems that science, as an
>institution, is becoming more digital in its perception of reality. This is
>certainly the case in mind science. And with digital physics, it seems true
>there as well.
>Thirty years ago, the battleline appeared to be drawn between reductionism
>and holism, or the mechanical and the dynamic, or the mechanical and the
>organic, etc. Now with discrete vs continuous causality, I think the actual
>battleline has come into much better focus. This is what Rosen appeared to
>recognise in Essays on Life Itself. Victory on this issue could be decisive
>in a way that reductionism/holism, or mechanical/organic, was not.
>Maybe, as you say, there is no good test to decide the issue in favour of
>either camp. And therefore digital physics will prevail as the digital view
>is what people generally prefer. But it seems worth having a go at pressing
>the case of continuity as the deeper ontology. The stakes are high enough.
>from John McCrone
>check out my consciousness web site
>neuroscience, human evolution, Libet's half second, Vygotsky and more... (03)